The scene: Christmas, 1941. The Corleone dining room table.
Tessio: I understand thirty thousand men enlisted this morning.
Sonny: A bunch of saps.
Michael: Why are they saps?
Connie: Sonny, come on. We don’t have to talk about the war.
Sonny: Hey beat it—you go talk to Carlo alright? (To Michael) They’re saps because they risk their lives for strangers.
Michael: Now that’s Pop talking.
Sonny: You’re [expletive] right that’s Pop talking.
Michael: They risk their lives for their country.
Sonny: Your country ain’t your blood—you remember that.
Michael: I don’t feel that way.
Sonny (echoing Michael): “I don’t feel that way.” Well if you don’t feel like that why don’t you just quit college and go join the Army?
Michael: I did—I enlisted in the Marines.
That was an excerpt from the final scene of Francis Ford Coppola’s film The Godfather, Part Two. The exchange between the brothers Michael and Sonny Corleone reveals the tensions that can arise around the idea of patriotism and its consequences. Perhaps the most memorable line from the scene belongs to the volatile Sonny: “Your country ain’t your blood…”
Your country ain’t your blood…
Yes, it is true that the tie between members of a family is closer, and often much more palpable, than the connection between a man and his country. However, this does not absolve you of all responsibility towards your country. The notion of the common good is—along with the idea of the imago dei and the principle of subsidiarity—one of the major premises of the Church’s social teaching, and it makes real demands on individuals.
The fourth commandment is another principal root of the Church’s social doctrine. Paragraph 2199 of the Catechism broadens the duties established in the commandment:
The fourth commandment is addressed expressly to children in their relationship to their father and mother, because this relationship is the most universal. It likewise concerns the ties of kinship between members of the extended family. It requires honor, affection, and gratitude toward elders and ancestors. Finally, it extends to the duties of pupils to teachers, employees to employers, subordinates to leaders, citizens to their country, and to those who administer or govern it.
Country, then, is a natural extension of family and religion, a point that St. Thomas Aquinas echoes:
Man becomes a debtor to other men in various ways, according to their various excellence and the various benefits received from them. On both counts God holds first place, for He is supremely excellent, and is for us the first principle of being and government. In the second place, the principles of our being and government are our parents and our country, that have given us birth and nourishment. Consequently man is debtor chiefly to his parents and his country, after God. Wherefore just as it belongs to religion to give worship to God, so does it belong to piety, in the second place, to give honor (cultum) to one’s parents and one’s country. (Summa Theologiae II-II 101.1)
Now, there is not a universal, mathematical formula that can be applied to determine whether or not Michael Corleone, or anyone for that matter, should enlist in the armed forces. The particular details of life, the current responsibilities weighing upon a man, and all the myriad elements that constitute a man’s life become factors in deciding what one should do (note here the ever-present need for the exercise of the virtue of prudence). But we can at least respond to Sonny’s statement that “your country ain’t your blood.” Justice and charity begin at home, but they do not end there.
Image: Image by Neil Thomas